When it’s not worth the fight: 9 small ways to change screen time habits

I could be wrong, but I have a strong hunch that screen time is a term parents of my generation don’t like. We’ve heard so many facts and rules and guidelines around screen time. We all know that too much of it is bad for our kids, but we also know that in the past year and a half, it’s been a necessity. Not only for school, but as a social outlet when kids couldn’t see one another in person.

Now, we’ve got kids who love screen time, and we’re pretty much at a loss as to what to do. I, for one, don’t have any desire to fight with my children after the hard time we’ve all gone through this past year and a half. But I also don’t want to do nothing about it.

The solution? My gut is telling me to try something small and realistic to start making changes in my kids’ habits. If I start small, the end goal will be to create bigger changes eventually. Here are a few options to get started.

1. Try making a rule to leave devices plugged in when not in use

One idea is to make a family rule that when devices aren’t being used at home, they have to be plugged in (or put in a set location.) This means that phones and tablets aren’t allowed to be carried around on your person at home. If it can’t go with you, there’s less temptation to check messages and open up apps.

2. Grayscale the home screen

According to this article, using grayscale on your home screen can help curb screen addiction. By stripping away all the neuron-stimulating colours on your child’s phone or tablet, they’ll be less motivated to constantly check it for notifications or open up apps.

3. Do a family detox for 15 minutes

Have everyone in the family choose a set time during the day that works best and schedule a “screen-free” time. You can start with 15 minutes per day (or more or less, whatever works for you) and log it. Write it down each day and maybe even see how much time you can build up to.

4. Turn screens off at least one hour before bed

Put your devices to bed at a set time and place before you go to bed each day. Out of sight, out of mind.

5. Or don’t allow screen time before the afternoon

An alternative option is to have mornings be a screen-free time instead of evenings. Choose what works best for your family’s schedule.

6. Make screens off-limits during mealtimes

Mealtimes, even on busy nights, can easily be a time for no devices—no matter what. When screens are at the table, they can get in the way of connection between family members. Besides, email and notifications can wait. 

7. Create phone-free zones in the home

Whether it’s bedrooms or the kitchen or another place, you can decide as a family where you’d rather not have screens invade your space, and then stick with it. No exceptions. The simplest idea to remember is that when they’re nowhere nearby, they’re not tempting.

8. Set a timer

When you set a timer and clearly lay out the rules that this is their set amount of time for the day, kids may be more receptive to the “screens away” request. And when the kids do it, the parents should do it too!

9. Make a plan for before screens

Before anyone goes on a screen during the day, make a plan for what should happen first. Maybe you’ll walk the dog, have breakfast, or shoot some pucks. Maybe you’ll do some yoga poses or go for a bike ride. Pick something you like to do already, and delaying screens won’t seem like a challenge.

What else would you add to this list? Are there some small changes you’ve tried in your family? We’d love to hear them.


Read more about screen time:

5 tips for limiting screen time without conflict

These simple tools can help parents manage screen time

10 tips to manage screen time

Parent-tested tips for screen-free summer fun

How your child’s screen time really stacks up against outdoor play (and what to do about it)

Why parents should be mindful of their own screen time

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